Favourable season beckons

The rainy season calendar as it is traditionally known is almost halfway through but the country is yet to receive significant rainfall.

This is unlike in the past when the rains would start as early as the beginning of October and pound all the way to March.

As such, the erratic rains experienced in the country so far have sparked talk of another drought as those who rely on rain-fed agriculture fear that the season may have been lost. The panic is even greater among those who have already planted with the November rains.

Therefore, the million-dollar question is whether the country is headed for a drought or not.

According to the Meteorological Services Department (MSD), the country is unlikely to experience drought.

In its 2017-18 seasonal forecast, the Met Department predicted a late but favourable season for agriculture.

It divided its outlook into two sub-seasons – October to December 2017 (OND) and January to March 2018 (JFM).

The major highlight was that much of the country was going to experience erratic rains in the first half (OND) of the season and then favourable rains going forward.

Only Region I which covers Harare, Mashonaland, some parts of Manicaland and northen districts of Midlands were expected to experience normal to above normal rains in the first part of the season. Region II and III were projected to start receiving significant rainfall in the period January to March.

As such, a comparison of climatic conditions obtaining in the country and the Met Department’s outlook will show that the forecast has been nothing but spot on.

Rainfall patterns so far show that rains have been favourable in Region I, particularly in Harare and Mashonaland Central, while most of the Lowveld has been generally drier.

Farmer and Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa in November testified that the season was coming up as predicted.

“The rains have been good so far and the MSD has been spot on, what is left is for us is to get adequate fertiliser,” he said then. At the launch of the forecast Dr Makarau also remarked: “We are not expecting any serious rains until the end of November.”

This dovetails with regional forecasts and also what is happening on the ground.

Also, during the launch of its seasonal forecast, the Met Department noted that, “October rains are generally erratic for rainfed agriculture, more meaningful rains should begin in November.”

The Met Department also warned that flash floods and cyclones are likely as the season progresses.

In light of the above, it only becomes clear that the country is not facing drought as feared in some quarters since the forecast has been spot-on so far.

But what is more important is the fact that seasons are no longer as structured as they were before. It is no longer given that the rainy season starts in October as seasons are not only shifting but are also becoming more erratic.

An analysis of the last three seasons shows that significant rains only started in December and still went on to be good seasons. Experts add that even in a good season, some areas may still experience severely dry conditions, hence the need to manage the seasons. Met Department head of public weather services Mr Tich Zinyemba said the season is still subsisting as focused, adding that it is going to be normal, varying from place to place. He said what matters is rainfall distribution and moisture content.

Observers say it is important for the country to appreciate the advent of climate change and global warming. They say this calls for increased use of meteorological science and the close co-operation between farmers and extension workers in order to manage seasons in a better way.

In order to manage the changing seasons, the Met Department says it would be prudent to put in place measures for early cloud seeding programmes in light of the expected slow start of the season.

“In view of the moisture availability and suitable temperature thresholds, those with irrigation facilities should not wait for the main rains to fall,” the Met Department said at the start of the season.

“They can plant any time now, taking into account the high temperature needed for germination.” The Met Department also emphasised that there is need to continue with water harvesting programmes.

“The policies of small dam construction and borehole drilling, conservation and protection of wetlands should continue, more so in the southern provinces of the country, application of fertilisers should be guided by the 10-day weather forecasts as well as advice from agricultural authorities.”

Meanwhile, the Met Depart has warned of scattered violent thunderstorms that would be accompanied by lightning. The MSD has also incorporated indigenous knowledge systems in its weather forecast to improve accuracy.

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